After several years in the making, HOLAS 3 thematic assessments on the state of the Baltic Sea have been published, covering the period of 2016–2021. The thematic assessments are part of the third HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS 3), providing a holistic view of the Baltic Sea ecosystem health.
The holistic approach highlights the interconnectedness of various environmental factors and their impact on the ecosystem. The five assessment reports each focus on a specific topic, addressing the state of biodiversity, environmental pressures, eutrophication, and the relationship between humanity and nature. The findings offer valuable insights for policymakers, scientists, and stakeholders alike.
The results of HOLAS 3 have been published in stages, commencing in March 2023, and the process will culminate in the publication of the summary report State of the Baltic Sea, expected at the end of October 2023.
A comprehensive holistic assessment on the state of the Baltic Sea is conducted once every six years. The reports result from collaborative efforts among HELCOM member states, scientific experts, and organizations dedicated to the protection of the Baltic Sea. They serve as a cornerstone of HELCOM’s work and policymaking, assisting in the monitoring of the implementation and the effectiveness of the Baltic Sea Action Plan(BSAP).
The latest indicator evaluations on the status of the Baltic Sea marine environment have been published on the new HELCOM indicator website. The total number of indicators now amounts to 59, covering several major components of the Baltic Sea ecosystem including pelagic and benthic habitats, fish, waterbirds and marine mammals, as well as a number of human-induced pressures.
New indicators include the abundance and distribution of the harbour porpoise, the amount of beach litter, shallow water oxygen, as well as concentrations of copper, among others. Previously, there was no agreement or methodology in place to assess the status of these topics.
Several indicators also apply preliminary threshold values (for example, for underwater noise) and where possible, the threshold values have been made compatible with EU-wide processes. For the first time, threshold values for the number of drowned mammals and waterbirds in fishing gear (bycatch indicator) have been applied.
The HELCOM indicators support measuring progress towards regionally agreed targets and objectives defined in the Baltic SeaAction Plan (BSAP). The indicators provide a mechanism to monitor the effectiveness of the measures that have been put in place by regularly synthesizing common regional data into an evaluation of progress towards these goals and the BSAP vision. The evaluations contribute directly to the third HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS 3).
On the new website, the indicators can be filtered by type (driver/element/pressure/state), category (core/pre-core/supplementary) as well as policy relevance (BSAP segment and MSFD criteria). The development of the new HELCOM indicator website was implemented by the HELCOM BLUES project, co-funded by the European Union.
About HELCOM indicators
HELCOM indicators are developed to evaluate the status of biodiversity elements, evaluate other relevant environmental condition factors, evaluate human-induced pressures on the Baltic Sea, and support broader assessments and overviews in the region.
HELCOM indicators are measured in relation to regionally agreed threshold values, which are specific to each indicator. They may take the form of maximum, minimum or a range of values, and there can be variation in the threshold value(s) within an indicator (sub-regional) and between indicators.
The outcome of an indicator evaluation is expressed in terms of failing or achieving the threshold value and this is therefore indicative of if good environmental status is achieved or not for each specific indicator.
The indicators are selected based on ecological and policy relevance, measurability with monitoring data, and linkage to anthropogenic pressures. They are then developed by lead experts through regional cooperation, using the best available scientific knowledge. Each indicator is regularly reviewed and updated by technical and policy experts from across the region (HELCOM Expert and Working Groups). The work on introducing new indicators continues to cover all relevant topics and issues.
The recently updated online tool HELCOM Explorer allows to easily see how HELCOM cooperation bears fruit, and how the countries’ actions are being fulfilled when reaching the majority of their ambitious HELCOM targets and the ultimate goal: Baltic Sea in good ecological state.
The actions listed in the Explorer include the entire updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (2021), HELCOM Ministerial Meeting commitments from 2010 onwards as well as selected HELCOM Recommendations. The updated BSAP contains 199 concrete actions and measures addressing biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances, and sea-based activities such as shipping and fisheries. In addition, it includes new actions on emerging or previously less highlighted pressures such as climate change, marine litter, pharmaceuticals, underwater noise, and seabed disturbance.
“As the HELCOM Explorer provides a comprehensive overview and a great amount of information on both joint and national actions, with easy filtering tools, it is quite a unique system in regional marine governance. Moreover, it is a very concrete indicator of transparency for our stakeholders and to the broader audiences”, says Rüdiger Strempel, Executive Secretary of HELCOM.
Joint actions are carried out together by all HELCOM Contracting Parties, for example creating a new Recommendation, joint management guidelines, or assessments of environmental status. National actions are implemented at the country level, and they include e.g. incorporating the provisions of a HELCOM Recommendation into relevant national legislation or guidelines.
The Explorer allows for easy overview browsing, but also for more detailed filtering, according to the details of the actions in the Baltic Sea Action Plan such as segment, theme, or target year. The tool further provides information on why the action is needed (rationale), what pressures or activities are addressed by the action in question, and, for some, what is the potential effect of the measure to reduce pressures or improve the state of the Baltic Sea. All data is available for download.
The HELCOM Explorer tool to track the progress on the implementation of HELCOM commitments was first launched in 2016, and the interface was updated in 2020.
The reporting on the implementation of the joint actions is done by relevant HELCOM Working Groups and the reporting on the national actions by the countries. The first reporting on the implementation of actions in the 2021 BSAP is planned to take place in 2025, followed by the second reporting round in 2029.
Associate Professional Secretary
About the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP)
The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) is HELCOM’s strategic programme of measures and actions for achieving good environmental status of the sea, ultimately leading to a Baltic Sea in a healthy state.
Initially adopted by the HELCOM Contracting Parties in 2007, the 2021 BSAP is based on the original plan and maintains the same level of ambition. It also retains all actions previously agreed on that are still to be implemented, while, in addition, includes new actions to strengthen the existing efforts and tackle emerging concerns.
Guided by the HELCOM vision of “a healthy Baltic Sea environment with diverse biological components functioning in balance, resulting in a good ecological status and supporting a wide range of sustainable economic and social activities”, the updated BSAP is divided into four segments with specific goals: biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances and sea-based activities.
About HELCOM Recommendations
One of the most important duties of the Helsinki Commission is to make Recommendations on measures to address certain pollution sources or areas of concern. Since the beginning of the 1980s HELCOM has adopted some 260 HELCOM Recommendations for the protection of the Baltic Sea. The implementation of various HELCOM recommendations by the HELCOM Contracting Parties plays an important role in achieving the objectives of the Baltic Sea Action Plan. The HELCOM Explorer covers the reporting on the implementation status of selected HELCOM Recommendations.
The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – also known as the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) – is an intergovernmental organization (IGO) and a regional sea convention in the Baltic Sea area, consisting of ten members: the nine Baltic Sea countries Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden, plus the European Union. A platform for environmental policy making at the regional level, HELCOM works for a healthy Baltic Sea. Its mandate stems from a regional treaty, the Helsinki Convention, whose implementation it oversees. The HELCOM Secretariat is located in Helsinki, Finland.
The XXII International Environmental “Leonid Korovin” Baltic Sea Day Forum 2022 will be held in Saint-Petersburg (Russia) on 22-23 March 2022. The central theme of this year’s edition will be the updated HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP).
Other topics will notably include environmental monitoring of the Baltic Sea and the ongoing HOLAS 3 assessment, elimination of the HELCOM hot spots, and marine litter.
Organized every year since now over 20 years, the forum fosters cooperation on current issues related to the Baltic Sea’s environment. The forum has established itself as a regional meeting place for a wide array of stakeholders including policy makers, researchers, experts, authorities, businesses and NGOs, who gather each year to address the pressing issues the Baltic Sea is facing and to identify cooperation opportunities.
A youth event will also be held back-to-back, the Youth Day of the Baltic Sea that will be take place on 24 March 2022. The event will promote a dialogue among young people of the Baltic Sea region. It will also seek to engage youth in Baltic Sea related policy- and decision-making and activities related to the HELCOM BSAP and CBSS Baltic 2030 Action Plan priorities. It will also facilitate a mutual and cross-generational understanding of the challenges the Baltic Sea is facing, and what solutions young people have to offer.
The Baltic Sea Day 2022 will be conducted in a hybrid format, with the possibility to attend online. HELCOM, CBSS, John Nurminen Foundation and SWAM are due to attend, among other regional and national stakeholders.
The implementation of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) and the next Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea were some of the key topics on which the HELCOM decision makers advanced during their fall meeting, the 61st Meeting of the Heads of Delegation (HOD 61-2021), held online from 8 to 9 December 2021.
To facilitate the implementation of the 2021 BSAP, several measures were agreed on at HOD 61-2022, including the preparation of a technical guidance document and the review of the structure of HELCOM. Planning of the implementation of the BSAP actions has already started in some of the main HELCOM groups.
Also related to the BSAP, the decision makers agreed on the implementation procedures and prioritization of actions regarding the Revised Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter (RAP ML), which is the main instrument for achieving the BSAP’s objectives on marine litter. A workshop on the RAP ML implementation is planned for April 2022.
Following its approval at HOD 61-2022, a project on strengthening the HELCOM framework on hazardous substances will start in July 2022 for a duration of 18 months. The project will notably develop an action plan for HELCOM work on hazardous substances by 2024, as provided for in the hazardous substances and litter segment of the 2021 BSAP. More broadly, the project will also support further HELCOM assessment work.
At HOD 61-2022, the HELCOM decision makers also ensured that the Third Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS 3) remains on track, in particular by approving the updated workplan, numerous additional indicators to be used in the assessment, and the organization of several workshops in early 2022 to facilitate the assessment process.
One of the pillars of HELCOM work and policy making, the HELCOM Holistic Assessments provide a comprehensive overview of the ecosystem health of the entire Baltic Sea over a specific time span. The third Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS 3) covers the assessment period 2016–2021. The results of HOLAS 3 are expected to be published in 2023. The next HOLAS assessments will also serve to keep track of the implementation and the effectiveness of the BSAP.
Several HELCOM recommendations were also endorsed during the meeting, with a final adoption expected at the next meeting of the Helsinki Commission in March of next year. In addition, the terms of reference for several HELCOM bodies were also updated or approved.
The organization of several events was also approved during the meeting, such as the joint HELCOM and Baltic Earth Stakeholder Conference (HSC2022), which will be dedicated to climate change and is slated to be held online on 9–10 March 2022
“This is a good day for the Baltic Sea and its marine environment,” says Rüdiger Strempel, the Executive Secretary of HELCOM, a regional sea organisation to which all Baltic Sea countries and the EU are a party of. “With the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan, we now have a clear-cut roadmap for improving the ecological state of our sea over the next ten years.”
Despite significant progress in the past decades, the Baltic Sea remains heavily polluted and affected by human pressures. The most pressing of these remains eutrophication, the excessive concentration of nutrients in the sea and main cause of harmful algal blooms, leading to the depletion of oxygen in deep waters and upsetting marine biodiversity.
Addressing biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances, and sea-based activities such as shipping and fisheries, the updated HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan contains about 200 concrete actions that were developed to tackle the pressures the Baltic is facing today.
In addition, the plan now also addresses climate change, marine litter, pharmaceuticals, underwater noise, and seabed disturbance. “The update has also allowed us to include emerging and previously insufficiently addressed pressures,” Strempel notes.
All actions of the updated BSAP are to be implemented by 2030 at the latest. “A successful completion of the BSAP is a prerequisite for attaining the overall objective of a healthy Baltic Sea,” emphasizes Strempel.
Initially launched in 2007, the plan was revised when it became clear that the goal of “good environmental status” – a clean, healthy and productive Baltic Sea unaffected by pollution and other human pressures – would not be attained by 2021, as revealed by HELCOM’s latest assessment of the Baltic Sea.
“The BSAP has nonetheless delivered, and it remains one of the most effective tools at our disposal for achieving our environmental objectives,” says Strempel, adding that the original plan has contributed to reducing inputs of nutrients and hazardous substances. It has also led to a better protection of the Baltic Sea’s biodiversity, and to cleaner and safer shipping practices. “That is why the HELCOM Contracting Parties decided to build on and update the plan.”
Initiated in 2017, the update took about four years to complete, involving hundreds of national policy makers, experts and researchers from all Baltic Sea countries and the EU working under the umbrella of HELCOM in its various bodies. Stakeholders from civil society, NGOs, industry and the business sector were also closely involved in the update.
“The BSAP is not just an environmental success, but also a political one, demonstrating once again our capability for regional and cross-sectoral cooperation in the Baltic Sea area,” says Strempel, further stressing that the adoption of the plan was a major achievement also because it took place against the special challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A: The Baltic Sea Action plan, or BSAP, is HELCOM’s strategic programme for a healthy Baltic Sea. It contains about 200 actions addressing the various pressures on the Baltic Sea and its biodiversity. Originally adopted in 2007, the BSAP was updated in 2021 during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting in Lübeck, Germany.
Why the update?
The original BSAP envisioned the achievement of good ecological status by 2021. Unfortunately, that goal was not achieved. But the BSAP has nonetheless delivered, and it remains one of the most effective tools at our disposal for achieving our environmental objectives. It has contributed to reducing inputs of nutrients and hazardous substances, to the protection of biodiversity, and cleaner and safer shipping practices. That is why the HELCOM Contracting Parties decided to update the Plan. The update has also allowed us to include emerging and previously insufficiently addressed pressures.
What’s in the updated BSAP?
The new BSAP is an evolution rather than a revolution. It is based on the original plan and maintains the same level of ambition. It also retains all actions previously agreed on insofar as they still need to be implemented. In addition, it includes new actions to strengthen the existing efforts and tackle emerging concerns. The updated BSAP now contains about 200 actions and measures, divided into four segments, namely 1) biodiversity, 2) eutrophication, 3) hazardous substances and litter 4) sea-based activities.
In addition, a new section on horizontal topics addresses cross-cutting issues including climate change, monitoring, maritime spatial planning, economic and social analysis, knowledge exchange and awareness raising, hot spots, and financing. The ecosystem approach is a fundamental element of the updated BSAP.
The updated BSAP is also closely aligned with international and regional ecological objectives such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), or the European Union’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive, for those of our Contracting Parties who are also EU members. The BSAP therefore also drives the implementation of those targets and objectives.
How was it done?
The update of the BSAP is based on a science-based participatory process that took about four years to complete. The official go-ahead was given in 2018 during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting 2018 in Brussels, but work on the update had already started in 2017.
The updated BSAP is based on a thorough analysis of the sufficiency of the existing actions and measures, to understand what worked and what did not, and what would be the state of the Baltic Sea under a “business as usual” scenario without any modifications. This analysis helped to adjust some of the existing actions and measures and to develop new ones.
In general, updating the BSAP was an inclusive and stakeholder-driven process, with the majority of HELCOM groups and bodies involved in the work. Our stakeholders also participated in the development of new actions. The BSAP is therefore not just an environmental success, but also a political one, demonstrating once again our capability for regional and cross-sectoral cooperation in the Baltic Sea area.
The updated BSAP is based on the strongest possible political mandate. It was adopted during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting 2021 in Lübeck, Germany on 20 October 2021.
What are the expectations for the updated BSAP?
All actions and measures contained in the Baltic Sea Action Plan are to be implemented by 2030 at the latest. Successful implementation of the BSAP and attaining its goals on biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances and litter, and sea-based activities is a prerequisite for attaining our overall objective of a healthy Baltic Sea.
The way towards a healthy Baltic Sea will be charted during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting 2021, to be held in Lübeck, Germany, on 20 October 2021, where the HELCOM Ministers and the EU Commissioner for the Environment are planning to adopt the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan.
“The Lübeck Ministerial Meeting is particularly significant because the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan will influence and guide our regional efforts towards a healthy Baltic Sea for the next decade,” said Rüdiger Strempel, Executive Secretary of HELCOM.
Initially adopted in 2007 by the nine Baltic Sea countries and the EU, who constitute the HELCOM Contracting Parties, the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) is HELCOM’s strategic programme of concrete actions and measures for a healthy Baltic Sea. The HELCOM Contracting Parties agreed on the update of the BSAP in 2018 when it became clear that the goal of good environmental status of the Baltic Sea would not be attained by 2021.
“The BSAP remains one of the most effective tools at our disposal for achieving the ecological objectives we have envisioned for the Baltic Sea, which is why the HELCOM countries decided to update it,” explained Strempel, adding that the current plan has contributed substantially to improving the state of the sea’s marine environment.
The updated BSAP will contain about 200 concrete actions and measures addressing biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances, and sea-based activities such as shipping and fisheries. In addition, it will also include new actions on emerging or previously less focussed on pressures such as climate change, marine litter, pharmaceuticals, underwater noise, and seabed disturbance. All actions are to be implemented by 2030 at the latest.
“The update is intended to ensure that the BSAP remains fit-for-purpose in tackling the Baltic Sea’s challenges today and for many years to come,” said Strempel.
In Lübeck, in addition to the updated BSAP, the Ministers are also expected to adopt the Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategy, the Regional Maritime Spatial Planning Roadmap 2021-2030, the HELCOM Science Agenda, and the HELCOM Guidelines for sea-based measures to manage internal nutrient reserves.
Generally, the HELCOM Ministerial Meetings take place every three years and are attended by the minister in charge of environmental matters or maritime affairs of each Baltic Sea country, and, for the EU, the Commissioner for the Environment.
Germany currently holds the rotating chairmanship of HELCOM and will be hosting the Ministerial Meeting 2021 in the medieval city of Lübeck, famous as a major former Hanseatic trade hub in the Baltic Sea region.
During HOD 60-2021, the HELCOM Heads of Delegations notably fine-tuned the latest draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) that is due to be adopted during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting 2021 in October of this year.
Several key documents due to be adopted alongside the updated BSAP were also endorsed at HOD 60-2021, such as the revised HELCOM Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter and the Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategy. Others were the Guidelines for Sea-Based Measures to Manage Internal Nutrient Reserves in the Baltic Sea Region, and the Regional Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) Roadmap 2021-2030.
The decision-makers also advanced on the HELCOM Regional Action Plan on Underwater Noise. Addressing both monitoring and the management of man-made underwater noise in the Baltic Sea, the new plan will come in the form of a HELCOM recommendation containing a set of specific actions to be implemented at the regional and national levels.
The revised HELCOM Recommendation 23/5 on the reduction of discharges from urban areas by the proper management of storm water systems was also adopted during the meeting.
HELCOM also welcomed its latest observer, the Nordic Boating Council (NBC), during the meeting. With the NBC, HELCOM now counts 64 observers.
Attended by all Contracting Parties and chaired by Lilian Busse, the current chair of HELCOM, HOD 60-2021 further welcomed the new Vice-chair of HELCOM, Andreas Röpke from the Ministry for Agriculture and Environment of the German federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. He takes over from Johannes Oelerich from the Ministry of Energy, Agriculture, the Environment, Nature and Digitalization of the German federal state Schleswig-Holstein.
“The BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for achieving the HELCOM environmental objectives, offering a long-term vision and strategic orientation for a healthy Baltic Sea,” said the Executive Secretary of HELCOM, Rüdiger Strempel, in his opening plenary address, adding that the update of the plan is already well set to uphold this legacy. The BSAP is due to be updated later this year at the next HELCOM Ministerial Meeting.
Besides the BSAP, several round table sessions were dedicated to other pressing issues such as hazardous substances, and specifically on the modernizing of the HELCOM framework dealing with the issue. HELCOM is currently reviewing its processes on hazardous substances to allow a faster and more efficient response to emerging challenges caused, for instance, by the introduction of new chemicals used in industry and consumer products. The new strategic direction will also enable a better understanding of the full diversity of sources and pathways of contaminants to the Baltic Sea.
During the forum, other key discussions touched on river basin management and marine spatial planning, as well as on the implementation of projects conducted by way of cross-border cooperation.
Close attention was also paid to the adaptation to climate change, notably in connection with the implementation of the Agenda 2030 in 80 cities of the Union of the Baltic Cities (UBC) as well as in light of current trends in Russia.
Held in a hybrid online and in-person format, the “Baltic Sea Day” Forum was coordinated by the Government of Saint Petersburg, Russia and the State Company “Mineral”, with support from HELCOM, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, and the Committee for Nature Use, Environmental Protection and Ecological Safety of Saint Petersburg.
“There’s a long tradition of HELCOM involvement in the Baltic Sea Day Forum that has been held annually since 2000 in Saint Petersburg,” said Strempel, adding that during its 20-year history, the forum has become a key platform for the environmental dialogue at the regional and global level.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.